Job Loss and Long-Term Unemployment Blues

Thelisa LavergneHow to beat them both
A few weeks ago, I facilitated a workshop on long-term unemployment and quickly realized that the best information and advice that I could provide the participants is how to deal with the emotional side of job loss, particularly when it transitions into long-term unemployment.

Long-term unemployment is when workers are jobless for 27 weeks or more. To be counted as such by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those unemployed must have actively sought employment during the previous four weeks. That means the number of long-term unemployed is probably under-counted. Most people become discouraged and drop out of the labor force after six months. In March 2018, there were 1.3 million long-term unemployed individuals. 20% percent of the unemployed had been looking for work for six months or more.

There is no shortage of tips, techniques, tools, and resources on how to get a job, but there is little information on how to cope with job loss and the aftermath of long-term unemployment. Dealing with unemployment is a daunting task, but dealing with long-term unemployment takes on a life of its own.

" "What is rarely discussed is the emotional toll that being unemployed has on a person’s mental and physical well-being. The loss of a job can be a traumatic experience and many of those who become unemployed go through a myriad of emotions, ranging from anger to denial, avoidance, isolation, depression, etc. These emotions go through cycles that often repeat themselves depending on the length of unemployment.

Grief is not reserved solely for the death of a person. Grieving is marked by a lag, a delay, a freezing, a “Wait. What just happened?” The loss of a job is similar to experiencing a death, but it is the death of something that is often directly tied to a loss of identity, self-esteem, a sense of community and financial support.

Stage 1: Anger – Surround yourself with family and friends who understand your challenge. Perhaps seeking professional counseling or guidance from your minister would be helpful. There are also many community job search support groups available. Seek them out and participate. As your outward anger subsides, you start to move into the next stage.

Stage 2: Denial – I vehemently denied that I was hurt by the loss of my job. Somehow I felt it was far more important to put on a brave front – remember the old adage – “never let them see you sweat.” Well, I was sweating but I did not know how to handle it. Denial functions as a buffer, initially protecting you from strong emotions, such as anger, and allowing you to continue functioning. If you anticipated your termination, you may feel relief at no longer having to work under stressful conditions.

Stage 3: Depression — “Validate your right to feel miserable,” Dr. Robert L. Leahy, author of The Worry Cure, advised on NPR. “You’re a human being. You have a right to feel unhappy.” Once you’ve given your emotions space to exist, you can start to see the big picture more clearly, enabling you to act in ways that will help you and your career.

Stage 4: Avoidance – You avoid others, for fear of what others might think or say, and may even resort to isolating yourself.

Stage 5: Acceptance — Finally, of course, there’s acceptance. You understand what happened, you’ve experienced it, and you’re functioning through it. One thing to keep in mind with acceptance: make sure you’re not forcing it. Sure, some people move straight to the acceptance stage after losing a job, but it is different for every person. One way to know if you are truly over your job loss and in the stage of acceptance is if you can talk about the experience with:

  • Objectivity: You can state the facts without adding emotional commentary.
  • Accountability: You can take ownership of your role in what lead to your job loss.

My best advice comes by way of experiencing some very difficult and challenging moments during my own long-term unemployment. First and foremost, don’t take it personally; second, learn to laugh at yourself — have a sense of humor. You will definitely need to learn how to laugh at yourself – especially during those moments after an interview when you start to question some of your answers given during the interview. And finally: never, never, never give up!

Thelisa Lavergne is a member of the Regional (Texas Gulf Coast) Navigator team for Workforce Solutions. She specializes in providing training and education to the Gulf Coast community, career staff offices, and employers in assisting individuals with disabilities. She brings with her over 10 years of experience and expertise working in the nonprofit industry serving Houston’s disadvantaged community; individuals and families experiencing homelessness, victims of domestic abuse, and individuals and families experiencing hunger. However, her greatest contribution to Workforce Solutions is her compassion, commitment, and dedication to serving others. She holds a M.A. in Organizational Management, a B.S. in Training and Development, B.S. in Counseling, and a Certification as a Personal Fitness Trainer.

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